I've been in Port Moresby for just over a week now and this place has totally stolen my heart. In my first conversation with Jon he explained in Port Moresby people usually have the kind of experience they expect to have. If you walk around thinking the place to be dangerous and every person wants to harm you, then you will view people with fear and be responded to in kind. Yet if you approach the place with a more positive mindset, make the effort to say hello to people and to smile - you will find Port Moresby to be warm and inviting. Obviously it is still a city with its dangers but there are so many spaces where it is safe to open up and relax and when you do you have the opportunity discover one of the best things about this country - the people.
I've found Jon's words to ring true. My experiences at the National Archives and the National Library have been a bit of a roller coaster but the archivists, librarians and security guards have welcomed me like family and have gone out of their way to make sure my time here is enjoyable. Similarly the guards and staff at the hotel always watch out for me. The guards make sure I'm not getting into any transport that isn't safe and even watch out for me as I walk across the compound from one complex to the other (although this is entirely unnecessary). It's like I now have a team of big brothers. I've also discovered many people here do the 'double smile'. At first they will smile at you in greeting and then when you smile back and they recognise you - their smile gets even bigger and it's like sunshine radiating from their faces.
I've learnt so much about Papua New Guinea from the conversations I've had with the locals. Although most of the people I meet are living in Port Moresby they all feel a strong connection with the region their families are from. When I ask people where they are from they will tell me all about their province: what the people are like, the weather, the history and of course, how beautiful it is. I'm told I need to come and visit and always go away with a list of travel recommendations. 'If you come to my village, you will find the people are very nice and they will welcome you.' The librarian at the PNG collection of the library told me. Each person is an ambassador for their province and its virtues. And next time I return I hope to get to see more of Papua New Guinea and its people.
I wish I could return the invitation but I realise that for them it is not as simple. I found out the other day that for Papua New Guineans to get a travel visa to come and visit Australia they have to go through this long process where they have to provide proof of employment, of home ownership and assets and this whole list of things just to prove they have a reason to return to Papua New Guinea. Yet if an Australian wants to come to PNG, they can apply for a travel visa on arrival and all they have to do is prove they have a return ticket and sufficient funds. This demonstrates how fundamentally the Australian government misunderstands Papua New Guineans. We don't understand that although Australia may be one of the most developed nations in our region, it doesn't mean people from the surrounding nations all want to 'flood' our shores. People here feel such a strong connection to their country that they could never imagine leaving permanently and not returning. It would be like cutting off a limb. It's a shame we make it so difficult for them to come here because I'm sure Australia would greatly benefit from learning more from our Papua New Guinea neighbours and getting to have them with us, even if it is only for a short time.